Emma Murray (43) is a non-fiction author and debut novelist. From Malahide in Dublin, she now lives in south-west London with her husband, Sam, and their daughters — Ava (10) and Anya (eight)
Author Emma Murray shares her day
It’s all fun and games from about 6.30am. My daughters go into each other to have a big chat or a big scrap. One of them has developed a phobia about spiders, so if there is a bug in the room, we’ll have a bit of screaming.
I’m half-awake for all of this but my alarm doesn’t go off until 7am, so I cannot physically move myself out of bed until then. My husband Sam gets up before me and he does the breakfast shift. I grab a bowl of cereal, bring it to my desk and work from 7.15am until 9am. Then we swap shifts. He goes up to his makeshift desk in our room and then I’m on with the kids until 2pm.
We both have full-on jobs. I’m a freelancer. I’m a co-author for academic textbooks — a writing job that actually pays money — so I’ve got a team in the States. We’re writing a new introduction to a business book.
My first novel,
Time Out, has just been published, and
I’m working on my second. I have a three-book deal. It’s very exciting because I’ve been working up to this since I was eight years old.
Sam works in technology. He’s very much in the house these days. Before Covid-19, he would be out of the house by 7.30am, working in an office in Canary Wharf and back by 6.30pm. And I was at home working while the girls were at school. I’ve been working at home for 13 years, so it’s kind of my own space. Or, at least, it was; but for the past five months, we are all here. I would give anything to walk into a room with nobody in it. Everywhere I go, there are people.
I’m quite a solitary creature and I love my own space. I love walking into the kitchen and taking a break from work and listening to a podcast and having the headspace to get away from it all. Now there isn’t one minute of the day that isn’t caught up with, ‘Can I have a snack?’
We live in south-west London, near Wimbledon. The pubs are open again but
I just wouldn’t be bothered. What’s the point putting yourself at risk when you’ve come this far?
I have MS but it’s pretty mild, and I’m not on the list of vulnerable people. It’s not like having serious heart problems.
But it’s an autoimmune condition, so my neurologist told me to stay off public transport. But considering I work from home, it doesn’t make much difference. I probably wouldn’t go into a big crowded supermarket, just to be careful.
I worked in banking in London for eight years. Then, when I was 30, I was diagnosed with MS. I went completely numb on my left-hand side and I had pins and needles in my legs. I was going out with my now husband for about six months when this happened. I told him that I felt weird. I come from a family that doesn’t really do doctors. He said, ‘Maybe you should talk to my dad.’ His dad is a neurologist. I’d never met him before as it was early in the relationship, it wasn’t exactly at the meet-the-parents stage. His dad said that it sounded like MS and that I needed to get an MRI. I had the MRI and there it was. What a catch!
I was living with Sam at the time and I didn’t know what to do. I went on statutory sick leave from work. They were really supportive and they let me work from home for ages, but my focus wasn’t there.
I took eight months off and then I remember saying to Sam: ‘What am I going to do?’ He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him that I’d always wanted to be a writer. He said, ‘So what’s the problem? Be a writer.’ That’s his answer to everything. When it comes to Sam, there are no obstacles.
Writing fiction is wonderful for your mental health because you are just off in your own little world. You feel so much better afterwards. During my working day, I balance writing the business books and fiction. The factual stuff is easier to do, but I love writing fiction.
Time Out was inspired by my experiences when I had my babies. I wanted to write in a comedic way about the struggles of being a mom, and how difficult it was with the judgments. I was desperately trying to go by the book and when things didn’t work out, I was cracking up. No one else seemed to have any problems. And when
I moaned about being tired or sick of breastfeeding, I didn’t get any empathy. Instead I got tales of perfection.
I thought that I was doing everything wrong. It’s a bit like gambling, you only hear about the wins. I was so vulnerable and tired and a lot of the criticisms hit home. I thought, ‘I’ve ruined my daughter’s life and maybe she’s going to end up on top of a building as a sniper when she’s 18’.
“If I hadn’t got MS, I wouldn’t have left my big, fancy banking job to write fiction”
In a way, MS did me a favour. There is no way that I would have left my big, fancy banking job and my giant salary to write novels. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody said, ‘I’ll get rid of MS for you’, I’d bite the hand off them. But day to day, I’m in a fortunate position. I work from home, I can manage it and I listen to my body. I know very little about MS because I refuse to catastrophise it.
In the evenings we have dinner together, the kids shower and then we all gather as a family on the couch to watch 20 minutes of TV. We might watch Bake Off together. The girls are usually asleep by 8.30pm and I’m in bed at 10pm. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m like a harridan.